Monastery Makeovers

One challenge historic preservationists and architects face is that of adaptive reuse–taking a structure built for one specific purpose and giving it a new use. This process is an important part of historic preservation and of green building, but sometimes the original structure presents more of a problem because of the way the original purpose and function dictated the built environment. While it’s relatively common practice to convert unused school buildings into apartments, what do you do with, say, an empty monastery?

Monasteries dominated many aspects of life in other parts of the world for centuries. While monasteries have no widespread uniform appearance, there are trends depending on region and religion.

Imagine you are on a train heading through the scenic Traunviertel in Upper Austria. As you pass gentle mountains and picturesque villages, a large group of Baroque buildings comes into view. Context clues suggest some sort of church complex…but then you see the barbed wire fence and lots of security cameras.

Garsten Prison. Photo:

Don’t let the Baroque architectural features and colorful buildings throw you–you’ve just passed the Justizanstalt Garsten, or the Garsten Prison, a former Benedictine monastery. The 17th-century building complex was in use as a monastery until 1787, and was converted into a prison in 1851. Now that is thinking outside the box.

Or what about the Kruisherenhotel in Maastricht, the Netherlands? The 14th century Gothic building complex was once a monastery for the Catholic order of the Brethren of the Cross, and is now a designer hotel.

Kruisherenhotel. Photo:

Of course, not all monasteries that fall out of use go through radical changes. Monasteries were often production centers for wine and beer. Some are now secular wineries and breweries, like Domaine Weinbach in France, or the Romanesque Kloster Eberbach in Germany, which has been at different times a monastery, lunatic asylum, prison, and winery.

Aerial view, Kloster Eberbach. Photo:

Monasteries can certainly be restored without being converted, as well. Because of their important role in world history, a monastery preserved or restored simply as that can be an extremely meaningful structure. While monasteries can be striking examples of Romanesque, Gothic, or Baroque architecture, they can also be testaments to local heritage and vernacular architecture!

In 2015, AiP is partnering with Volunteer South America to do repairs on traditional stone buildings in the village of San Andrés, Ecuador, including a 17th-century Franciscan convent. You can read more about the project and register to participate here!

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The White Mill Rural Heritage Centre

Thomas Stanley. The name might call to mind many things for British history buffsstepfather of King Henry VII, accessory to the murder of Edward V and Prince Richard, 1st Earl of Derby. But if you know your history of milling in Kent, England, it might call to mind another Thomas Stanley.

This Thomas Stanley was by no means the first miller at the White Mill, the last surviving windmill in Sandwich, but he was the first of the Stanleys to run it. Stanley purchased the mill in 1878, and his family operated it until the 1950s. The mill had been built in 1760, with several outbuildings added later. The mill is no longer in use and is now part of the White Mill Rural Heritage Centre.

Thomas Stanley. Photo:

Open to visitors are outbuildings such as the miller’s office and cottage, granary, engine house, forge, and workshops. And, of course, the windmill itself. The windmill is an octagonal four-sailed smock mill, so-called because the shape is thought to resemble that of a person wearing a smock. Inside, three millstones used to grind corn. Much of the machinery on display today is original.


The White Mill. Photo: The White Mill Rural Heritage Centre.

The heritage center is run completely by volunteers. From acting as docents to running the gift shop to managing finances to marketing, every aspect of the operation relies on volunteer hours. Restoration work, too, relies on the efforts of volunteers. The windmill was restored between 1960 and 1981, the sails between 2012 and 2014, and the Engine House in 1995.

The White Mill is actively recruiting volunteers who are interested in helping with administrative tasks, collections management, restoration projects, and other tasks. Visit to learn more about the museum, or check them out on Twitter!

Volunteer John Hewett at work on the granary. Photo: White Mill Rural Heritage Centre.

Volunteer John Hewett at work on the granary. Photo: White Mill Rural Heritage Centre.


The White Mill is one of many historic sites around the world managed and operated by volunteers. On the occasion of International Volunteer Day (December 5), Adventures in Preservation salutes, and thanks, all of them.

Posted in Community, Cultural Travel, Heritage Travel, Historic Buildings, Historic Sites, Industrial heritage, Volunteer Opportunities | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Gravestone Conservation at the PAWV Conference

A few weeks ago, my alarm clock (and by that I mean cell phone) went off at 4:50 am. I turned it off, and reluctantly got up and with a travel mug of hot tea in hand, I was out the door in twenty-five minutes. It was foggy and chilly, but I had a three-hour drive ahead of me to attend the first day of events at the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia conference in Huntington, West Virginia. The things we do for historic preservation.

As a colleague and I drove through West Virginia’s Alleghany Mountains, it began to clear and we saw some pink streaks of the sunrise, though we were heading west and most of the action was happening behind us. We arrived in Huntington promptly—with enough time, we happily discovered, to find coffee before the session began.

As more and more people gathered outside the office of Spring Hill Cemetery, Huntington’s oldest and largest public cemetery, it began to warm up and the sun shone brightly, promising a perfect day for mucking about in a graveyard. I mean, learning about gravestone conservation.


We started off, a little behind schedule, by walking through a section of the cemetery as Jonathan Appell, our guide and teacher for the day, pointed out gravestones in need of some TLC. Many were covered in lichen, others were slipping off their bases, some had bases that had sunken unevenly, and there were some that were just plain broken. He talked to us about some of the historical practices behind gravestone carving and placement, including the differences between different types of stone. Then we set to work doing the most basic of tasks.

After a brief demonstration, we were set loose on a few 19th-century lichen-covered headstones with bottles of D2, spray bottles filled with water, and soft brushes. The process for cleaning is shockingly simple when all you need to do is get rid of a little biological growth: spray with D2 (a biocide that actually kills lichen rather than just removing it, and which is gentle enough to be used on most stone monuments), wait for the D2 to start working, then scrub in a circular motion or scrape while simultaneously spraying with clean water. Voila.

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Our next lesson was on adjusting a base that had sunk and gotten out of line. After carefully removing the pieces of the headstone (did you know that headstones are often at least two separate blocks?), he showed us how to pack a mixture of sand and gravel beneath the stone while propping the stone up with a long iron bar and some wooden wedges. Then we began to rebuild the headstone, which consisted of a base set with two rectangular stones of decreasing sizes (think layer cake) and a column which had broken near the top.

First we learned about mortars, which was nothing new to me after the 2013 Fairfield Foundation AiP project. Then we got to work spreading mortar to replace the stone that set directly on top of the base, which we then pointed after replacing the stone. For the next two components, we learned about modern compounds and techniques for erecting stone monuments, using monument putty, epoxy, and small lead spacers. We repaired the remainder of the headstone using the modern techniques, though we used a combination of epoxy and traditional lime mortar to fix the most visible break (the column) to attempt a bit more subtle and historically accurate repair.

As the afternoon went on, our final project was a culmination of everything we had learned that day with a bonus demonstration of how to move gravestones with a tripod. We removed all the components from a headstone whose pieces were seriously askew, using a tripod for the top pillar. Then we realigned the base stone, put everything back together using the monument compounds, and finally gave it a good scrub. We left the cemetery both cleaner and tidier than it had been before, with lots of new knowledge on hand.

I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun in a cemetery.

All photos by Hallie Borstel.

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Up for Adventure in Albania

by Innes Borstel

“Adventures in Preservation”… I’ve always loved that word “adventure.” As a kid, my dad would pack up all of us and take us whitewater canoeing, spelunking, and mountain climbing. Looking back, it’s a wonder that we all survived, and that Mom allowed it all to happen! Anyway, when my daughter came back from her “Adventures in Preservation” jaunt last August, glowing with inspiration, I said to myself—I want an adventure, too!

It took a little while to choose an adventure, and longer to negotiate with my work three weeks off instead of two. But they were willing to work with HR to create a “mini-sabbatical” category of leave-time. Then my preparation began in earnest, for I had determined to get the maximum bang out of my adventure. I chose my adventure to be the 16th Restoration Camp with Cultural Heritage without Borders in Gjirokaster, Albania.

The center of Old Town, Gjirokastrar

The center of Old Town, Gjirokaster

If you are of my generation, your basic idea of Albania is of some vague notion of one of those small, poor European countries with a crazy dictator. It was certainly a place that no one went to or left from! One of my favorite summer-read novelists as a teenager was Mary Stewart. Her book This Rough Magic takes place in nearby Corfu and casts Albania in a cloak of mystery and danger (of course, I re-read it before this trip!) Although Albania as a travel destination has gotten good press recently, it is still very much under the radar of mainstream European tourists’ path.

So what did I do to prepare myself for a two-week restoration camp in Albania?

  1. Purchased a travel guide: there’s really only one to choose from, published by Bradt (very good!)
  2.  Took an audio course in Albanian by Pimsleur, and got a “teach yourself” Albanian book
  3.  Started reading about Ottoman and Balkan history and architecture (a huge tome too heavy to read in bed!)
  4. Started sketching—one pencil sketch each day
  5.  Got a pedometer and gave myself a 10,000 steps daily target
InnesBorstel Gjirokasta street

The famed cobblestone streets of Gjirokaster

Now, most of my friends (and certainly my husband) thought I was going overboard, but I say that I definitely got maximum value from my adventure because the adventure began, not with the airline boarding pass in hand, but with these daily changes in my routine: the language lessons, the reading, and the sketching. This skill building also built confidence as well as comfort into the anticipation of my upcoming adventure.

Innes and CHwB in Gjirokastra

Innes, on her great adventure in preservation

My friends were, of course, absolutely right that I was going way over the top—there was no need for me to do any of this in preparation for this adventure. All I really needed to do was make sure I had an excellent pair of sneakers for the cobblestone streets and paths of Gjirokaster Old Town! Everything else was icing on the cake—and a very fun-filled cake it all turned out to be!

Innes Borstel is currently working as a preschool teacher for Montclair State University’s Children’s Center.  Clearly the adventurous type, she has also worked as a craft potter, exploration geologist, and import/export support. She dapples in all kinds of crafts and art, and enjoys learning new languages and travelling to interesting places that have a strong sense of the past.


You can have your own adventure in preservation in Albania! Join AiP in May 2015 for continuing work on the World Heritage Skenduli House.

Posted in AiP Projects, Cultural Travel, Experiential Travel, Heritage Travel, Historic Buildings, Historic Preservation, Volunteer Vacations | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring the Best of Bruges (and its Buildings)

By Amandine Dowle

Bruges is a beautiful medieval town, located two and a half hours by train from Paris and 50 minutes from Brussels. Often called the Venice of the North for its canals, Bruges reveals its beauty at any time of the year. It is quite small so you don’t have to rush to see hundreds of attractions, as can be the case in other touristic cities.

With its 10,000 buildings, Bruges itself is one of the finest architectural complexes in Europe. It is from here that the art of the Flemish radiated throughout Europe, making the center of Bruges the center of many artistic movements.

Here are some ideas of what to see in Bruges, all of which can be done easily in a weekend:

1. First thing: Get lost! Wander rather than use a map
Lose yourself in the maze of cobbled streets! Bruges is not large; you can always find your way to the main square (le Markt). Without a travel guide, you can really enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the city and discover places off the beaten track.


Canal in Bruges Photo: Amandine Dowle

2. Historic places and monuments in Bruges to not miss
Little paved streets and huge squares characterize the historic center. The Markt is one of the largest squares in Bruges. It was for more than 1000 years the symbol of the alliance between the civil and religious authorities. You will find the double chapel dedicated to St. Basil, called Chapel of the Holy Blood, composed of a lower Romanesque church and an upper church. This square was also home to several public institutions including the Court of Justice. The halls, the Belfry and Watterhalle are on the Grand Place.

The Belfry is one of the most impressive monuments of the Flemish city, with its 83 meters. Go to the top and find its secret room including an impressive clock mechanism and a carillon of 47 bells. The bravest that have reached the top will be rewarded with an incredible panoramic view of the city and its surroundings.

St. Saviour’s Cathedral is the oldest parish church in Bruges, dating from the twelfth-fifteenth centuries. You can admire the tombs in the chancel of the church. The museum features paintings of old Flemish masters as Dirk Bouts and Hugo van der Goes.

Markt Square

Markt Square Photo: Amandine Dowle

3. Eat a waffle covered with chocolate
You cannot visit Belgium without eating a Belgian waffle. Try “wafel met slagroom” meaning a Flemish waffle with whipped cream. Do as a local and buy the waffle from a street vendor; they are better quality (and value) than in restaurants. Then, the hard part: choosing a topping from among chocolate, jam, whipped cream, sweet, fruity, salty …

4. Rozenhoedkaai dock (Quai du Rosaire)
This is the image that comes to mind when thinking about Bruges. During the morning, afternoon or night, go to the dock to take a picture. The spot is really nice. You will understand why Bruges is called Venice.

From this dock, you can admire Bruges in all its glory. You will find the pretty home of the Tanners (Huidenvettershuis), built in 1630, which is a fine example of civil architecture. The tower house stands a little further. Beyond that, you will see the high roof of the chapel of the Holy Blood and one the left, the majestic standing Belfry.

Quai du rosaire_bruges

Quai du Rosaire Bruges Photo: Amandine Dowle

5. Take a tour by boat
No need to use your car in Bruges. It is best to walk, ride a bike and also use the many boats on the canals. You will see many places and monuments that you would be able to see only by boat. For less than € 8, you can have a 30 minutes tour with a guide who explains the history and culture of the city, while sitting to admire the banks. It’s really a must-do.

6. Follow the footsteps of film
Have you seen the movie In Bruges with Colin Farrell? A leaflet explaining the different scenes is available at the tourist office.You will find the main square and the belfry, but also the Burg Square, the Lake of Love (Minnewater), the Queen Astrid Park (Koningin Astridpark) or the square where the statue of Jan van Eyck, a famous Flemish painter, is located. It’s another fun way to discover the city.

7. Rent a bike
As noted, the city center is mostly pedestrian and there is no subway in Bruges. People travel by bike, and there are many places where you can rent one. If time allows, explore the surroundings of Bruges by bike. Find a tourist info point and ask for a cycling map.

8. Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood
The basilica, located on the Grand-Place, has a beautiful interior. The price of the entrance is just two euros. The relic of the Holy Blood retains the blood of Christ and during the day of the Ascension, it is the subject of a parade around Bruges that thousands of spectators attend. You only need about ten minutes in the basilica but it is worth it.

9. Find a truly local brewery
Brewery De Halve Maan is home to the only brewery family still brewing beer in the center of Bruges. You can discover the history of the brewery and how  Belgian beer is crafted by taking a tour. At the end of the visit, you can taste some of their beers in the courtyard.

10. Enjoy the artistry of Michelangelo in the Church of Our Lady
The Notre Dame is known for its brick tower of 120 m, the highest in Europe. Its existence is mentioned for the first time in 1089 and it is especially worth a visit for its medieval pieces, such as the armors of the Golden Fleece Knights and the famous Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. The marble statue, which dates to 1504, is the jewel of this Gothic church. It is the only work by Michelangelo that left Italy during his lifetime. In the center you will also find are the tombs of Mary of Burgundy and her father, Charles the Bold.

This relaxing and calm city is perfect for a romantic weekend! Ifyou have a bit longer than a weekend,  have a look at the Belgian beaches as Ostend or Knokke-Heis.

Amandine Dowle is a French fashion and lifestyle photographer.  She has lived in New York, Ottawa, Greece and now resides in Milan.  In addition to photography, Amandine also writes articles about her traveling experiences for publishers.

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Making a Splash: Six Cool Pool Sites

August is half gone, which means summer is coming to an end.  But it’s not too late to indulge in summer fantasies!  Fantasies of gorgeous, historic swimming pools, that is.

A brief history of the swimming pool: the earliest pool is believed to be the 39×23 ft sealant-lined brick pool at Mohenjo-Daro (Pakistan), which dates from the third millennium BC.  Later civilizations, the Greeks and Romans in particular, continued the tradition and introduced heated swimming pools.  Public pools became popular again in the 19th century in the U.S. and abroad.  From there they became partly politicalwho (what social classes, races, and genders) could swim where, and when?

Without diving any deeper into the social history of pools (though there is much to be explored), let’s continue on to take a look at some stunning pools that will absolutely make you want to jump right in.

We’ll start off with a pool complex in one of my favorite cities, Berlin, Germany.  The Stadtbad Neukölln (Municipal Pool of Neukölln) was designed by architect Reinhold Kiehl, modeled after ancient spas.  It opened in 1914, and is still in use today.

The large pool. Photo:

Moving halfway around the world, the pools at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, are similarly inspired by the antique.  There are two pools at the castle, the outdoor Neptune Pool and the indoor Roman Pool, both dating from the 1930s and designed by architect Julia Morgan.

The Neptune Pool. Photo:

The Roman Pool. Photo: Aaron M Photography

Just up the road (ish) in San Francisco, California, are the ruins of the Sutro Baths.  At the time of its opening in 1896, Sutro Baths was the largest indoor public bath complex with six seawater pools and one freshwater pool.  It was demolished in the 1960s.  You can see happy swimmers go down a water slide in this short video clip taken by Thomas Edison at the baths in 1897.

A poster for the Sutro Baths. Image: Wikipedia

Or perhaps you’d rather visit a bath on the site of a former Roman bath, rather than one just inspired by the Romans?  Then head over to the Roman Baths in aptly named Bath, England.  The site has been used for bathing almost continuously since the Romans first erected a bathing complex.  Now it houses a modern spa and pool, an 18th-century pump room, 19th-century baths, and a museum.  You can do a “walkthrough” of the complex on the Roman Baths’ website.

The Great Bath. Photo:

If you’re craving something simpler but still historically significant, there’re always Cleveland Pools, also in Bath.  Built in 1815, these Georgian pools were in use until the 1970s and recently received a grant of £5.4 million for restoration work.  The outdoor pools were the largest in England at the time they were built, and are still some of the oldest in the country.

The crescent at Cleveland Pools. Photo: Cleveland Pools

Before we go, let’s head over to Turkey for something slightly different.  Not for Turkish baths, though.  We’re going for more mineral springs and Greco-Roman pools in Pamukkale (formerly Hieropolis), southwestern Turkey.  What’s probably most unique about the site are the terraced travertine hot springsshould you happen to be visiting when it’s chilly, you can still splash your feet or go swimming in one of the large pools!  Bonus: the remains of Roman columns and other architectural features lie on the bottoms of some of the pools.

The terraces at Pamukkale. Photos: Hallie Borstel

I’m completely ready now to go enjoy some swimming in one of these pools.  How about you?

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A Day with UOregon at Klesarska Skola

Every summer, the University of Oregon leads  an architecture, historic preservation, and conservation field school in Croatia.  The program travels to different sites each year, exploring both the mainland and the Dalmatian islands.  Activities in 2014 included a week learning about stone carving, documentation of villages, and restoration work on stone beehives.  Days were quite busy but filled with interesting opportunities and unique experiences!  The program is open to UO and non-UO students, and to people transitioning or considering changing fields (like me).  This year’s field school began on June 20th.  Join me for Day 6 of the field school, Day 4 at the Klesarska Škola (stone-carving school) in Pučišća on the island of Brač.


The Klesarska Škola

7:00 – Wake up and get ready for the day.  (Alternative: wake up at 6:30 for a quick pre-breakfast swim in the harbor.)

7:30 – Breakfast buffet in the school cafeteria with a group of Austrian sculptors who are on a working vacation in Pučišća.

8:00 – 9:00 – Visit the workshop of a local stonemason to see modern, electric stonemasrony machines in action and hear a little about their use.

9:00 – 12:00 – Return to the school to pound away on limestone blocks using traditional techniques and tools–no electricity-powered machines here!  Graduate from flattening the surface of a large stone to doing a simple decorative relief, which is altogether more fun and easier on the arms and hands.

12:00 – Head out the doors of the school and launch yourself into the turquoise Adriatic for another refreshing dip before lunch.

12:30 – Lunch in the school cafeteria.

1:00 – 4:00 – Free time allotted for individual sketching, swimming, doing course readings, and napping.  Take a walk to the local cemetery to attempt some sketches.

4:00 – 7:30 – Visit local farmer and long-time Pučišća resident Ivo to tour his farm, which includes a grove of olive trees, remains of stone beehives, and a small house built from dry stone walls that was used until the mid-20th century (now home to an old jacket and a bat).  See lots of giant spiders.  Repair a dry-stone fence.  Teach Croatian translator/cultural ambassador/program assistant the joys of riding in the bed of a pickup truck.


The olive grove at Ivo’s farm.

7:30 – Dinner back the the Klesarska Škola cafeteria.

8:30 onwards – Free time for watching the World Cup games, playing cards, going for a nighttime swim, and complaining about the large boats full of tourists that are blasting their music.

Pučišća, Night

The view from the dorms, when there are no boats blocking the view.

All photos by Hallie Borstel.

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